Buffeted by geopolitical events in the Middle East, oil prices have been on quite a roller coaster ride this year. On Feb. 11, as the unrest in Libya began to play out, prices for crude hovered at $85 a barrel. By the end of April, they peaked at almost $114 a barrel, then hung around the mid-$90s through the end of July before sliding to $88 a barrel at the end of August.

Amid all the turmoil, oil prices are up from barely $20 a decade earlier, making it reasonable to assume that many energy companies are wallowing in cash - and that payouts to investors may be significant. Indeed, many clients probably hold shares of giants like ExxonMobil (now paying a 2.5% dividend) and Chevron (3.2%), through mutual funds or directly.

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